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Millions protest in Beirut over tax hikes as State declares economic Crisis

Last updated on October 18, 2019

Thousands of people demonstrated in Beirut on Thursday contrary to the government’s administration of a dire market is among Lebanon’s most important protests in years, causing to the Cabinet to pull a planned new levy on WhatsApp calls.

Protesters blocked roads across Lebanon with burning tires, broadcasts revealed, the next time in under a month Lebanon has witnessed demonstrations expressing anger in the political elite.

The demonstrations are fueled by stagnant economic conditions exacerbated by a fiscal crisis in one of the world’s most heavily populated states. The government is attempting to figure out ways to bring down its gaping budget deficit.

Before the Cabinet had introduced a new revenue-raising step, agreeing a fee of 20 cents daily for calls through voice over internet protocol (VoIP), utilized by software such as Facebook-owned WhatsApp, Facebook calls and FaceTime, Information Minister Jamal al-Jarrah explained.

Also, he said ministers would talk about a proposal to increase value-added tax by two percentage points in 2021 and a further 2 percentage points in 2022 until it reaches 15 percent.

However, as protests spread across Lebanon, Telecoms Minister Mohamed Choucair called into undercover broadcasters to state the planned levy on WhatsApp calls were revoked.

Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri had stated the step was expected to net about $200 million in earnings for the state annually according to a statement from his press office.
Lebanon has just two cellular service providers, both state-owned, and a few of the very costly mobile prices in the area.

“We’re not here within the WhatsApp, we’re here over what: over food, gas, bread, overall,” said a protester at Beirut that gave his title as Abdullah.

Protesters scuffled with all the security forces in Beirut.

Lebanon is under pressure to approve the 2020 budget shortly, a measure that may allow it to unlock an $11 billion pledged at a donor conference this past year, conditional on financial and other reforms.

The government has announced a state of”economic crisis” as Lebanon confronts debt burdens, low expansion, crumbling infrastructure and breeds in its monetary system from a downturn in capital inflows.